Accuracy in Media

Why aren’t the American media investigating the role of British billionaire businessman Nadhmi Auchi in supplying loans to Barack Obama fundraiser Tony Rezko? Some point to media bias, but there is another factor. Working for Auchi, who was born in Iraq, attorneys from London law firm Carter-Ruck have for several months been flooding American and British newspapers and websites with letters demanding removal of material they deem “defamatory” to their client. 

In its June 28 edition, British satirical magazine Private Eye explains: “Until Carter-Ruck and Partners and England’s stifling libel laws got to work, the few American journalists not caught up in Obama-mania were turning to the archives of the British press to answer an intriguing question: who is Nadhmi Auchi?”

What is so “stifling” about English libel law? In the U.K., as Carter-Ruck explains on its own website, “A libel claimant does not have to prove that the words are false or to prove that he has in fact suffered any loss. Damage is presumed.”

The Obama campaign recently issued a non-denial denial in response to claims that Obama met with Auchi―contained in Jerome Corsi’s bestseller, The Obama Nation. They cited only two references.  One is, “Mr. Auchi’s lawyer” who told the February 27, 2008 London Evening Standard, “As far as he can remember he has had no direct contact with Mr. Obama.” Another is, “A lawyer for Auchi, Alasdair Pepper” who says, according to the April 16, 2008 Washington Post, “Auchi Had ‘No Recollection’ Of Meeting Obama or Michelle.” Alasdair Pepper is the attorney whose name appears on the Carter-Ruck demand letters

The Secret Loan

A secret $3.5 million loan from an Auchi company to key early-money Barack Obama fundraiser Antoin Rezko was exposed while Rezko was awaiting trial on fraud and money-laundering charges earlier this year. Rezko’s bail was revoked and police showed up banging on the doors of his Wilmette Chicago mansion to drag him off to jail early in the morning of January 28th. Auchi’s loan to Rezko had come on May 23, 2005 but had not been disclosed to the Court as required in his bail agreement. Three weeks later, on June 15, 2005, Rezko’s wife assisted the Obamas in the purchase of their South Chicago mansion by purchasing a next-door undeveloped lot being sold with the house. 

According to the Times of London, “Mr. Rezko’s lawyer said his client had ‘longstanding indebtedness’ to Mr. Auchi’s General Mediterranean Holding (GMH). By June 2007 he owed it $27.9 million. Under a Loan Forgiveness Agreement described in court, M. Auchi lent Mr. Rezko $3.5 million in April 2005 and $11 million in September 2005, as well as $3.5 million transferred in April 2007. That agreement provided for the outstanding loans to be ‘forgiven’ in return for a stake in the 62-acre Riverside Park development.”

Rezko’s relationship with Barack Obama goes back to at least 1990, when Obama’s law firm did work relating to thousands of now-decaying Rezko apartment units in South Chicago. Rezko was a key early-money fundraiser in Obama’s state Senate campaigns and his failed run at the U.S. Congress.

According to The Times of London, “Mr. Auchi first met Mr. Rezko after the 2003 Iraq war and they have a business relationship.” At the time Auchi was facing the possibility of extradition to France. The Times of London explains: “Mr Auchi was convicted of corruption, given a suspended sentence and fined £1.4 million in France in 2003 for his part in the Elf affair, described as the biggest political and corporate scandal in post-war Europe. He, in a statement from his media lawyers, claims he is appealing against the sentence.”

In 2003, Nick Cohen of the UK Guardian wrote:

Allow me to introduce you to Nadhmi Auchi. He was charged in the 1950s with being an accomplice of Saddam Hussein, when the future tyrant was acquiring his taste for blood. He was investigated in the 1980s for his part in alleged bribes to the fabulously corrupt leaders of post-war Italy. In the 1990s, the Belgium Ambassador to Luxembourg claimed that Auchi’s bank held money Saddam and Colonel Gadaffi had stolen from their luckless peoples. In 2002, officers from the Serious Fraud Squad raided the offices of one of Auchi’s drug companies as part of an investigation of what is alleged to be the biggest swindle ever of the (British National Health Service). With allegations, albeit unproven, like these hanging over him, wouldn’t you think that British MPs would have the sense to stay away?

But after threats from Carter-Ruck, Cohen’s “defamatory” article became one of six Guardian and Observer articles scrubbed from the Internet this April. 

Blogger “A Jacksonianreceived a similar demand on or before June 24.  His article is still up. It details much of the information contained in the six deleted Guardian/Observer articles.

Source of Wealth

Auchi in 1967 began an Iraq Oil Ministry career eventually rising to be Director of Planning and Development under the Baathist dictatorship. He formed GMH in 1979 and then left Iraq.  A key source of weapons procurement for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, GMH became the largest single private shareholder of Banque Nationale du Paris (BNP) which later merged with Paribas to form BNP-Paribas. BNP and BNP-Paribas, at Saddam Hussein’s insistence, handled all Oil-for-Food transactions until 2001 when the incoming administration of George W. Bush demanded change. 

Investigative journalist Bill Gertz explains:

“A 2004 Pentagon report obtained by The Washington Times identified Auchi as a global arms dealer and Iraqi billionaire ‘who, behind the facade of legitimate business, served as Saddam Hussein’s principle (sic) international financial manipulator and bag man.’

“The report to the Pentagon inspector general stated that … ‘significant and credible evidence has been developed that Nadhmi Auchi has engaged in unlawful activities working closely with Iraqi intelligence operatives to, Bribe foreign governments and individuals prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom to turn opinion against the American-led mission to remove Saddam Hussein.’”

The web scrubbing did not stop with the six Guardian/Observer articles. New Statesman writer Martin Bright reports that Auchi lawyers “have written to ask us to remove the names of the articles concerned.” Removed, the six titles are now available for reading only in difficult-to-find independent web archives:

           “Labour blocks extradition of Iraqi tycoon” Observer, 2 February 2003

Auchi’s Middle East Online April 23 celebrates the removal of the six articles with a photo of a sphinx-like Auchi. The caption: “Tracking even the search engines.” In addition to the UK Guardian, the MEO article speaks proudly of articles forced off the Internet sites of the UK Sunday Times, the Financial Times, and Italian business weekly Il Mondo.

Crows Carter-Ruck attorney Alasdair Pepper: “Another publisher is now shortly to be sued over false material it is publishing on the internet, having failed to heed a warning letter. A fulsome apology, injunction and substantial damages will be sought against it.”

Carter-Ruck’s website touts the UK Daily Mail’s description of the firm as “London’s best known and most feared libel lawyers.” But dead men cannot sue. On December 23, 2003 former Carter-Ruck partner David Hooper wrote:

“The libel lawyer Peter Carter-Ruck, who died on Friday, had a chilling effect on the media. He was a chancer, out for the maximum fee. And he did for freedom of speech what the Boston Strangler did for door-to-door salesmen… He established the idea that libel law was complicated and merited very high fees. In the process he became very rich. ‘I like to bill the clients as the tears are flowing,’ he told me.”

In another article now missing from its original website, Jack Kelly of RealClearPolitics.com wrote:

“‘The name Nadhmi Auchi was just another name for Saddam’s intelligence service, or so we thought,’ said Nibras Kazimi, a former Iraqi dissident who is now a visiting scholar at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C.

“Mr. Auchi is a business partner of Syrian-born businessman Antoin ‘Tony’ Rezko, who has supported Mr. Obama financially since his first run for the Illinois state senate in 1996.”

Additional Targets

Journalists are not the only targets. The former Wikipedia entry for Auchi’s GMH remains available on Answers.com. It reads in part: “In 1996, according to European news accounts, Belgium’s ambassador to Luxembourg charged that Banque Continentale du Luxembourg, a bank that Nadhmi Auchi and Paribas jointly controlled until 1994, had handled personal accounts for former dictator of Iraq Saddam Hussein.” Banque Continentale denies the charges.

But the original GMH Wikipedia article has been taken down, replaced by an entry flagged as being “written like an advertisement” which mentions none of the controversy swirling around GMH.

Lead is joined by silver. In the scrubbed article, the Guardian’s Cohen wrote: “(Auchi) has been able to collect British politicians the way other people collect stamps.”

The London Times, which has held out against most of the Carter-Ruck litigation threats writes:

“On the 20th anniversary of his business in 1999, Mr. Auchi received a greeting card signed by 130 politicians, including Tony Blair, William Hague and Charles Kennedy, who were then leaders of their respective parties.”

But even this Times article has been tagged. At the end is a disclaimer added after the original publication:

Note: we wish to make it clear that, in the original piece “Obama bagman is sent to jail over $3.5m payment by British tycoon” (Feb. 1), we did not intend to suggest that there was any connection between the $3.5m loan from Mr. Auchi to Mr. Rezko and any approaches Mr. Rezko may have made to Illinois State Officials. We apologise to Mr Auchi for any misunderstanding.”

Sanitizing the Record

Web scrubbing begins at home—in this case with Middle East Online, owned by GMH. The Real Barack Obama  documents January 2008 deletions taken down from Auchi’s website as Rezko prepared to go to trial. Also scrubbed: the website of the press secretary of Rep. John Knollenberg (R-MI) and even an ABC news article. The deletions appear aimed at obliterating all reference to Auchi’s April, 2004 visit to Michigan and Illinois

Auchi is photographed meeting with Rezko, Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-Il), and President of the Illinois Senate Emil Jones during the visit. Jones and Rezko were both key early-money Obama backers. The Chicago Tribune and numerous other reports place Obama at the dinner at the Four Seasons hotel with Auchi, Blagojevich, Rezko and others. Court testimony by Stuart Levine in the Rezko trial places Obama at an April 3, 2004 party held in Auchi’s honor at Rezko’s house.

 In spite of his British connections and an earlier 2004 U.S. visit, Auchi was denied entry into the U.S. in 2005. It is believed that he was attempting in 2005 to win a U.S. visa with the help of Rezko and several as-yet-unnamed Illinois political figures. Among Auchi’s many international awards is a 2005 election as an “Honorary Member in the International College of Surgeons in Chicago, Illinois.” Obama has denied trying to help Auchi.

Media Protection

In the U.S. efforts are underway to prevent foreign court libel judgments from infringing on the First Amendment guarantees of press freedom. On May 7, Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) was among those announcing introduction of the Free Speech Protection Act which has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration. He explained: “The United Kingdom has become a popular venue for defamation plaintiffs from around the world, because under English law it is not necessary for a libel plaintiff to prove falsity or actual malice as is required in the United States.”

Lynne Bradley, Director of American Library Association’s Office of Government Relations, explains the ALA’s July 31 decision to support the bill: “ALA is concerned that foreign libel lawsuits threaten U.S. authors and publishers and our freedoms of speech and the press. Through its chilling effect, such ‘venue shopping’ also denies the American people the right to read and to access information―another inherent First Amendment right essential to our democratic form of government.” The ALA has endorsed the bill, which is cosponsored by Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Charles Schumer (D-NY).

Auchi is not the only one taking advantage. In the UK, several books have been pulped and removed from libraries and booksellers after threats of expensive, drawn out litigation by wealthy Arabs and others. 

While Islamist illegal combatants captured in combat on foreign soil and held at Guantanamo are moving closer to attaining the legal rights of U.S. citizens, American authors investigating and writing about subjects related to Islamist terror and Mideast corruption have been sued under a foreign legal system with inferior free speech protections and subjected to six-figure judgments entered in foreign courts.

Carter-Ruck’s efforts on behalf of Auchi go beyond major newspapers. Several websites carrying articles by RezkoWatch writer and progressive investigative journalist Evelyn Pringle were threatened with UK-based lawsuits. This was the second demand letter directed at RezkoWatch; the first arrived February 9. In response, RezkoWatch editors scrubbed any reference to Auchi as “corrupt” from their website except when quoted from an external source. In its posted response to Pepper, RezkoWatch indicates it also “archived” numerous articles pending verification of their contents.  

In a June 29, 2008 AmericanThinker.com article: “Free Speech, the Obama Campaign, and the Washington Post”, this author wrote: “A Presidential candidate must be prepared to face extraordinary levels of scrutiny. If Obama and his supporters think they can silence questions about his background, his leftist terror-bomber backers, his ‘God damn America’ pastor, his cocaine use, his financial dealings with indicted Syrian-born businessman Tony Rezko, or with Saddam Hussein crony and oil-for-food banker Nadhmi Auchi, they are mistaken.” 

Intimidation

Apparently I was mistaken. After American Thinker received a letter from Carter-Ruck, the sentence was chopped off after the word “Rezko.” Many website operators simply do not have the legal or financial resources necessary to face off with Carter-Ruck. 

Larry Johnson of the No Quarter Blog received and posted online a February 18 demand letter from Carter-Ruck which claims Auchi “was not involved in any of (Saddam Hussein’s) operations.”  Carter-Ruck even demands removal of material in the comments section below Johnson’s blog postings. 

Similar claims, as well as misspellings, are contained in other of Pepper’s letters seen by this writer—perhaps indicating that the Auchi threat letter machine is nearing its operational limits and might fail if Internet users revolt and begin randomly posting deleted Auchi material all over the Internet in an act of cyber-civil-disobedience.                 

Senator Lieberman’s Free Speech Protection Act is modeled on “Rachel’s Law” signed April 30, 2008 by New York Governor David Paterson.  Rachel’s Law had passed both houses of the New York state legislature unanimously March 31 after being introduced with bi-partisan support.  “Rachel” is Rachel Ehrenfeld, an investigative journalist and author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It

Ehrenfeld’s 2003 book, published in the U.S., pointed to Saudi multi-millionaire Khalid Salim Bin Mahfouz as a funding source for al-Qaeda prior to 9-11. Mahfouz sued. He is Saudi; the book, its author and publisher are American; but rather than coming to a U.S. court, Mahfouz selected English jurisdiction in a typical case of “libel tourism.” Ehrenfeld did not answer the English suit and instead countersued in U.S. federal court.

Legal assaults from Middle Eastern sources are becoming so widespread that the Middle East Forum has founded The Legal Project to raise funds and recruit some of the nation’s finest attorneys willing to stand up pro-bono for free speech and defend writers against lawsuits and intimidation.      

Six weeks after Governor Paterson signed Rachel’s Law, the New York Times published “Out of Step with Allies, U.S Defends Freedom to Offend in Speech” painting U.S. free speech as “out of step” with almost every other country because so-called hate speech is not banned. The Times primary example―a trial in British Colombia, where the Canadian Islamic Conference accuses MacLean’s magazine of violating Canadian ‘hate speech’ laws for publishing an excerpt from Mark Steyn’s book America Alone: The End of the World as We Know it. 

According to the Times, the Muslims demand, “the magazine should be forbidden from saying similar things, forced to publish a rebuttal and made to compensate Muslims for injuring their ‘dignity, feelings and self-respect.’” Canada’s laws are similar to those in Britain and the many other countries with which the U.S. is “out of step.” As negative comment raged across the Internet, the Times scrubbed its own article, removing “Out of step with allies” from the title.    

Also quoted in the Times, Jeremy Waldron, a New York University law professor, wrote in the New York Review of Books May 29: “It is not clear to me that the Europeans are mistaken when they say that a liberal democracy must take affirmative responsibility for protecting the atmosphere of mutual respect against certain forms of vicious attack.”

Silent Treatment

U.S. media outlets are historically strong defenders of press freedoms. But there has been near-total silence about the UK-based legal threats to public discussion of the Rezko affair. While Auchi’s interference may explain part of the media’s lack of interest, the attitude of the New York Times and New York Review of Books goes a long way towards explaining the rest. 

If elected President, Obama will be required to swear to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Will Senator Obama now join in co-sponsoring S-2977, the Free Speech Protection Act of 2008, and call upon his fellow Democrats to bring the bill to the floor of the Senate for a vote? If not will Obama explain why the Free Speech Protection Act is not necessary to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution?” 

Will reporters covering the campaign ask Obama whether, if elected, he would approve a request for U.S. residency from Auchi? 

Are the media now cooperating in their own silencing? The attitude of the New York Times does not bode well.




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